What to Expect in a Tattoo Apprenticeship

What to expect from a tattoo apprenticeship
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Professional tattoo artist, Jo Chastney, talks about what to expect whilst doing a tattoo apprenticeship. She shares her personal experience as an apprentice and what you might be asked to do.

Credit: Jo Chastney

Video Transcript:

What’s up beautiful people? Welcome to today’s video. My name is Jo and I’m a professional tattoo artist based in Bournemouth (and that sounds like I am on a dating show).

Today I’m going to talk about what to expect in your tattoo apprenticeship. I’m going to go through what I did during my tattoo apprenticeship, and also mention a few things that other people have had to do as well, and how some can be easier than others. So grab a cuppa and get comfy. If you want to start tattooing, please check out my other video if you haven’t already on where to start. Everywhere is different, every tattoo studio is different, and artists are different.

Here is my experience. I actually ran around probably 20 tattoo studios before I got an apprenticeship asking for one and pretty much everywhere said no. Some were more helpful than others. One said it’ll cost me 10,000 pounds and he wouldn’t employ me afterwards. And the one that I ended up in, said it’s not a tattoo apprenticeship, you will be the front of house. But I thought at least I’m in a tattoo studio, that’s fine I’ll convince them afterwards to teach me.

Because I was front of house I actually got paid; a normal tattoo apprenticeship is usually free, sometimes you get paid if you’re doing other jobs; mine I got 40 pounds a day and basically I ran the entire studio and I was a tattoo apprentice as well.

So my working hours were 10 till 6. I would get there at 10 and the artist would get there at 11 so I had an hour to kind of blitz the place, clean it after what they’d left me from the night before because they usually work a bit later, and then get ready for them coming at 11.

So I would empty all the bins over, mop the floor, clean all the stations down, make sure all their areas are totally tidy for when they come in. The rest I could do was once they’re in. Make sure the toilet’s clean, that was always fun, make sure the kitchen area was clean, and the reception area make sure all of that area the waiting area was all clean and tidy for people coming in.

So once all that had been done, the artists would slowly sort of come in, maybe first thing tea. Offer them a tea. Depending on the artist, they might want you to set up their entire station. Other people don’t want to do anything, or want to do most of it but leave the machine because that requires certain tinkering that only they know. If you touch the machine you might mess it up. By that point you’re probably going gonna need to make another tee.

Back when I was an apprentice many years ago (it was probably about 10 years ago), I had to clean all the grips and tips. Now mainly I think most people use cartridges now so you probably won’t have to do this, but yeah back in the day when it was needles you had these metal grips and tips so you had to go through this whole cleaning sterilization process which took forever; especially if we’d been to a convention or they tattooed those over the weekend and I had a couple of days to catch up on and I would have like 20 grips and you have to scrub them with a tiny little brush and the ink would dry on there. Ah, I would never forget doing that; it was horrible, but people before that had to actually clean needles. I’m glad I didn’t have to do that.

Anyway, in the meantime drawing all this stuff, I’d have to answer the phone, if anyone came in I’d have to be the receptionist as well, making sure everyone was happy. If anyone needed anything, then I had to provide it for them on a little plate.

When booking people in and replying to emails and on the phone, I would have to ask them what they wanted and then speak to the artist whilst they’re tattooing and see how long it took and when they were to book it and all that sort of stuff. There’s not a lot over the phone anymore; it’s probably all email and booking forms and stuff so you probably won’t have to do that either. That’s just what I had to do.

I’m just gonna tell you how hard mine was. There were some jobs that I only had to do sort of once or twice a week, other jobs I had to do every day. Go to the bank, check the studio supplies, go and get the supplies, go and get lunch, go back and get lunch because someone didn’t decide and then they have to yeah, and then tea of course.

In my spare time, I was allowed to draw and watch the artists and watch them tattoo and they would sometimes explain to me what they were doing and while they were doing it. Other times I was just kind of guessing. And I did all of that for a year before I was allowed to actually pick up a tattoo machine and tattoo myself.

So Ben, one of the guys that taught me, said you need to desire do a design about that big so I was like okay so I did it and it was a butterfly moth type thing and he said right you’re gonna tattoo that on you. I tattooed it on my leg and it was so thick, I went so deep, but I got it in there and it doesn’t look too bad actually.

So be expected to wait a little bit of time before you actually are allowed to pick up a tattoo machine. And as I said, everyone’s different, every artist is different, people teach you differently. I think mine was quite hard, but I did have it quite easy compared to other people that I’ve heard about. S ome people have done a three-year tattoo apprenticeship so they haven’t tattooed for three years and had to do all that stuff. So I only had a year of it and I think they made me cry just a few times so I got off lightly I think.

If you’re gonna get an apprenticeship nowadays, you’re probably more likely to start tattooing a little bit earlier. I think it was kind of like a right of passage to make it quite hard back then whereas now I think if you’ve got a bit of skill with your drawing that you will pretty much get taught straight away, but still have to do like a few of the studio jobs; just to like work out how it all works as well because there’s a lot to running a tattoo studio or even like a private studio. There’s a lot of stuff like you might not know about so it’s learning the whole process of how to create a tattoo and having clients.

You’ll probably have to buy your own stuff; like machine, power supply, clip cord, all the kind of basics is what you usually have to provide for yourself. Everything else, like general studio supplies, they probably will provide for you.

Then when it comes to actually starting tattooing, you’ll probably be expected to do just like basic sort of designs to start with. Unless you just want to go in for it and go straight in and go with big realism stuff, but I probably stick with just some smaller designs, maybe with a little bit of shading, a little bit of line work, mix it up and stick with kind of the easier body parts as well.

Because you’re probably going to be tattooing your mates or mates of mates for a little bit cheaper you have to say that you’re a tattoo apprentice and that is why it is a little bit cheaper than normal. I started off doing a few freebies on mates and then when I actually started tattooing the general public when I was in the studio and I had walk-ins, they were 40 pounds an hour. And obviously at that time you know tiny little ones probably would actually take an hour or a couple of hours it took so long. I was really concentrating and to start with when you start picking up a tattoo machine it feels so weird because the grip is massive and you know you don’t really know how to hold it.

So before I started actually tattooing I worked out how to put my pencil in my machine so I could practice drawing holding the machine and feeling the weight of it and using the grip and I found that really really helpful. So if you can, kind of tweak a machine or just practice having it in your hand and practicing the movements that will help you when you actually start doing your first tattoo.

You’ll also probably get a bit of an achy hand, a bit of an achy neck, your eyes might feel a bit tired. Few things, but I think you’ll slowly get into it and if you love tattooing it doesn’t matter it’s fine.

You probably will be expected to get your own clients so um I think I mentioned in another video building up your Instagram and putting on drawings and building up like that client relationship um from quite early on I think that’s quite important.

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